Following a dominant performance against Jimmie Rivera, is Aljamain Sterling the next contender for bantamweight gold?
Sterling has won three fights in a row, and is 5-1 since April, 2017.
The fight was seemingly over before it began for Jimmie Rivera, as Aljamain Sterling was doing everything he could to secure his spot as a top contender. Following a unanimous decision victory over the former at UFC on ESPN 1 in Phoenix, Arizona, Sterling is ready for the next step in his career.
Sterling (17-3) was hot right out of the gate to start the first round with a takedown attempt. His takedown offense was on full display throughout the first, as well as using his deadly leg strikes to push Rivera (22-3) back. It was more of the same in the second, as Sterling used his impressive wrestling ability to halt any sort of momentum for Rivera. He went inside throughout the bout, looking to capitalize on Rivera’s hesitancy with major blows.
“Funk Master” used creative punches and kicks to the face of Rivera, who tried his own display of offense as well. In the end, Sterling was too much for Rivera to handle, hence the UD victory (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
Now a winner of three in a row and five of his last six, the clear path for Sterling is a bantamweight title opportunity. There does appear to be one man who is in his way, and that is Marlon Moraes. The 30-year-old beat Sterling with a vicious knee that knocked him down a peg. Moraes (22-5-1) is also on a four-fight win streak. Sterling believes Moraes is next for the title held by T.J. Dillashaw, who recently lost a Flyweight Title bout to Henry Cejudo. With Rivera out of the way, Aljo believes a shot is expected sooner rather than later.
“Rivera was the guy that was pegged as being the next guy to challenge for the title and he stumbled against Marlon, the same thing that happened to me,” Sterling stated after the fight. “He was the next guy and had won 20 fights in a row, so how am I not the next guy after Marlon Moraes?”
Besides Moraes and Dillashaw, one fighter the New York star may need to look out for is former champion Cody Garbrandt. Sterling may want to test the waters and face Dillashaw’s old teammate turned enemy before all is said and done. Without sustaining much damage during the Rivera fight, the world is Sterling’s oyster, can he take advantage of his impressive run?
His wish may be granted. Now in the top five in the UFC ranking system, Sterling’s claim for championship gold is valid. Ahead of him is an inactive Dominick Cruz, which really puts Sterling in a good position.
With a skillset that should worry any opponent, Sterling has a chance to show the world in 2019 who he really is. At the end of the year, he may very well be holding championship gold.
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